Emerging Global Public Health Leaders: Part 1

As COVID-19 has shown the entire world, we’re only as resilient as our health systems. Without strong health systems, we’re not well equipped to withstand a sudden disease outbreak, or to deal with the slower crisis of increasing demands on our health services.

A key part to building strong health systems is investing in emerging leaders. As we speak, emerging leaders are working hard each day to treat people who are ill, to devise health promotion campaigns, to track the latest epidemiological data, and to run and evaluate mental health programs. This fall, we launched an Emerging Leaders Campaign to celebrate global public health professionals who are creating major strides in areas including advocacy, communications, medicine, program management, research, and more.

These individuals are already making big impacts in global health, but throughout their work, we’ve noticed an interwoven theme; a common desire to push for health equity and human rights. That’s why between the months of November and December, we’re shining a spotlight on their unique insights, experiences and career advice across our social media channels.

Below are the contributions from 5 of these inspirational emerging leaders.

Stay tuned next week for insights from more global health professionals! In the meantime, check our social media channels for daily updates using the hashtag, #celebrateGHleaders. 

We hope you’re just as inspired as we are!

Brianna Cheng

Research Associate, Dalhousie University 

It’s beautiful at the end of the world.

Exposed to the elements, and crouched atop the edge of an escarpment during an afternoon hike, it felt like I was intruding on some private meeting between the heavens and earth. The sky threatened to swallow me whole in its infinitely expanding maw; below me, a canopy of golden leaves reached towards me, the cool autumn wind tousling their blonde crowns. Marveling at this sight, I realized that even when many aspects of life have come to a standstill during a global pandemic, there is still joy to be found in all of its liminal incarnations. In this moment of pause, I came to better appreciate the unforeseen forces that have shaped my career thus far.

Upon graduating in 2020, my seemingly unrelated skills converged in productive ways while I navigated an uncertain job market. During my studies in epidemiology, I applied my critical appraisal skills during creative writing workshops, where I analyzed humanities literature and healthcare issues. In these group settings, I learned to give/receive feedback and obtained insights about the publishing process when I submitted my first poem and book review. 

To my surprise, I was repeatedly asked about this unconventional life experience during the hiring process for global health positions. As a result, I was able to highlight my unique strengths in communications alongside my formal quantitative training, which I have since applied while supporting the development of global health curriculum.

Similarly, my past involvement in directing a social incubator also prepared me to lead stakeholder consultations in this role.

Indeed, there is value in nurturing transferable abilities — even if they’re developed outside the classroom — which may give rise to new opportunities.

Like others, I have also discovered unexpected benefits of working virtually during COVID-19. Thanks to this digital environment, I have been able to form new partnerships across Canada, which have further grounded my understanding about community health issues. While collaborating with an interdisciplinary team from the Maritimes, including individuals with lived experiences, I came to see first-hand the benefits of co-inquiry when researching the opioid crisis.

I also acquired valuable experience in developing public-health recommendations, which I view as part of a cohesive skill set for an aspiring epidemiologist like me. I hope to retain this same sense of wonder as I continue to carve out my professional pathway in “glo-cal health”, recognizing that each experience holds the potential for revelation and self-growth.

Lauren Murray

Public Engagement Officer, CanWaCH

Communications channels are busier now than ever. To be successful in all areas of work in global health, you must quickly and effectively communicate your message to the right audience. The global health workforce is unique in that communications roles are filled by professionals with backgrounds diverse in education and experience.

I studied public policy and human rights in university but followed my passion and personal interest in women and children’s health. Upon graduation, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. As a student, I had worked in a pharmacy, fundraising and special events. I had a lot of experience in different areas, but I was challenged to envision or predict how that set of skills would lead me to a career in communications and public engagement.

After graduation, I took on programming and administrative positions in the nonprofit sector, seeking learning opportunities and the ‘right fit’. I began making a ‘pros and cons’ list and quickly realized that what I enjoyed doing most were the communications activities that were often tacked on to these programming and administrative roles as “side of your desk” work. It was then that I started to look for positions in communications and social media.

If I could offer advice to people looking to start a career in the global health sector if would be 3 things:

1. Learn how to write well

No matter what your job title is within an organization, good writing skills will help you advance your career. Learn how to translate sector jargon into clear plain language. Learn how to copy-edit. These skills will help you become the go-to person within an organization.

2. Be open to new opportunities

I started out in programming and administrative positions, so keep an open mind when searching for new opportunities. Find an organization that you are interested in, follow their job openings and look deeper for the communications activities within the list of responsibilities. At the end of the day, your job title won’t matter if you enjoy what you do.

3. Always be curious, always be learning

The communications space is constantly evolving. What was considered best practice ten years ago is now completely outdated. So, you have to be willing and eager to learn new things. Get active on social media, subscribe to some industry newsletters, listen to some podcasts. Follow the trends and stay on top of current affairs and you’ll already be one step ahead!

Zeba Khan

Executive Director, Free Periods Canada

I have always known that I wanted to build a career in healthcare. Five years ago, I embarked on a journey to make that happen, and it started with moving half-way across the world, from Bangladesh to Canada, to pursue an undergraduate degree in Physiology & Neuroscience. 

I was excited about the prospect of a new future, but I was also scared – I did not come across anyone who looked like myself in a leadership role in the Canadian healthcare system. I started to doubt myself – does a visible minority, a woman, and an immigrant really have the potential to contribute to our healthcare system in a meaningful way? Fortunately, I wasn’t completely discouraged by this lack of representation. Instead, I made it my mission to change that.  

Currently, I am a board member of Options for Sexual Health, the Executive Director of a grassroots non-profit organization called Free Periods Canada, as well as one of the founding committee members of Women in Global Health Canada.

As an emerging leader in healthcare, I take immense pride in the work that I do, because with each passing day, I know that I am one step closer to making the Canadian healthcare system equitable – in both access and representation.

Yipeng Ge

Public Health and Preventive Medicine Resident Physician, University of Ottawa

To me, Global Health has always meant learning about health and social inequities, including the social determinants of health, and how to tackle these complex issues locally and globally. 

During my undergraduate studies in Hamilton, I learned so very much about Indigenous health and health and social inequities in the context of the Hamilton and Six Nations communities. Many tremendous Indigenous leaders, clinicians, academics, and community members contributed to my learning about the harsh realities of past and present-day colonialism and racism, and the strength and resiliency, that shape and impact the health and wellbeing of communities and peoples. Some of these experiences through our collective education mentorship model was incredibly formative for me to want to pursue clinical training. 

Before I started medical school, I interned at the World Health Organization (WHO) to better understand the role that multilateral organizations such as the WHO play in shaping health and wellbeing for individuals and communities around the world, including Canada.

I am very proud to have begun my residency training in public health and preventive medicine (including family medicine) knowing that I am in a field that allows for me to gain the competencies to care for patients clinically at an individual level, but also care for patients at a community/population level (such as through health promotion, disease prevention, communicable disease, health protection, surveillance and epidemiology, environmental health, and public health policy work). 

Over these past few months, I’ve had the privilege in being Canada’s youth delegate to the 73rd World Health Assembly and 58th Pan American Health Organization Directing Council – an opportunity to represent the youth voice within Canada’s delegation to these multilateral organizations. It has been a deep dive into the world of international relations and diplomacy and global governance structures for health and wellbeing, during the global public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

My lessons, learning, and reflections have been widespread – above all, national unity and global solidarity through prioritizing health and wellbeing through an equity lens will get us through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathleen Murphy

Project Manager, Resilience Research Centre

My global health journey to date has taken me on a winding and exciting path; one which has invited people and experiences into my life that have enriched and fuelled me in ways I could only dream. 

Following my Master of Public Health degree, I’ve worked in a number of local and international contexts in research, programmatic, and policy positions. I was an intern at the Canadian Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, where I bore witness to the powerful role of diplomacy in negotiating global health and labour governance mechanisms, following which I moved to Kenya to collaboratively develop, implement, and evaluate a positive parenting program with and for street-connected mothers.

I’ve also worked in Indigenous health in Canada to help establish a Network for community-led Indigenous health research, and currently manage a study on youth resilience in communities impacted by the oil and gas industry in Canada and South Africa. 

It is through these and other experiences that I have learned a number of important lessons: 

First, I’ve learned the importance of humility

To ask questions with a humble curiosity that respects and acknowledges that the communities I work with are the experts in their own lives and are sources of tremendous knowledge and strength. 

Second, I’ve learned to practice reflexivity

To continuously and critically reflect upon my social location in the work I undertake and how my many privileges (not the least of which is being a white Canadian woman) impacts the way I see the world, how I behave within it, and how I’m perceived by the communities I work with. 

Finally, I’ve learned just how important it is to have an open mind and an open heart

You never know how far or in what direction a single conversation might take you, nor what you’ll discover along the way. In my experience, global health is a co-learning journey that, only when we work together with humility and compassion, can be transformative.


November 21, 2020


ThriveHire team